Hugo Chávez’ tight grip on Venezuelan media threatens to reach new levels. The Venezuelan leader’s recent announcement that every country needs to regulate the Internet and the launch of his “guerrilla” communicational campaign have sparked fears that his control over the media might be extended to the online world.
Chávez’ dominance of traditional forms of media in Venezuela is unquestionable. Not only does the Venezuelan leader have his own weekly show, but he is the brain behind Telesur and Radio del Sur, television and radio channels aimed at exporting the Venezuelan “socialist” model beyond Venezuela’s borders while reinforcing Chávez’ message at home. However, what has caused even more alarm are his outright attempts at media censorship, which have sounded warning bells both in the Latin American country and abroad.
The Officer’s Wife is a powerful movie about the Katyn Massacre by the Soviets during World War II. It is scheduled to be debuted at the Library of Congress next month.
THE OFFICER’S WIFE follows a son who makes a startling discovery. After the death of his father, a forgotten safe deposit box reveals his grandmothers autobiography, old photos of an army officer and a mysterious postcard that all link to a concealed crime: the Katyn Forest massacre. Weaving dramatic interviews with bold animation, THE OFFICERS WIFE probes the collision of truth, justice and memory in a shrouded family tragedy.
The movie includes interviews with many who were with the Polish president in the April 10 plane crash. The Polish president and the rest of the passengers on the doomed flight, as you probably know from the news reports, were en route to a commemoration of the Katyn Massacre.
In an unsigned editorial titled “Voice of the Mullahs“, The Washington Times charges the “Voice of America is becoming the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The piece then cites two recent examples of the Voice of America’s Persian News Network giving “preferred treatment to pro-regime messages.” The individuals allegedly receiving this “preferred treatment” were Hooshang Amir-Ahmadi and Trita Parsi. The editorial closes with an incredible leap, declaring that
…if VOA is telling Iranians struggling for freedom that resistance is futile, we hope Tehran keeps jamming it
Somebody at The Washington Times is either confused or being mislead, or both. It would seem from the reading of this op-ed that these incidents are indicative of the overall programming of VOA, but the facts do not align with this charge. It would seem that if VOA’s Persian News Network (PNN) were really telling Iranians “resistance is futile,” the regime would stop attempting to jam transmission and reception of broadcasts, as well as conduct espionage against RFE/RL.
There’s a new blog focused on “analysis of communication and strategy”: The Campaign War Room by James Frayne. James has a background in political communication and, as he told me last year, is frustrated that “all the standard rules of communications that are accepted in politics and commercial communications seem to be rejected by IO practitioners.” After reading his post about the recent meeting of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, his frustrations appear at least intact.
One of the issues this blog will be focusing on is Western public diplomacy efforts. It’s always been an area of interest for me because it’s about the battle of ideas, which the West has rarely engaged in effectively. Over at MountainRunner – the best blog on this area – Matt Armstrong links to the minutes from the March meeting of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.
As ever with public diplomacy, the minutes are a depressing read. There are endless stories about Government agencies cutting across each other, or antiquated rules preventing effective action, or a general lack of shared ideas on what the Government should be doing. It’s extremely difficult not to become weary with the process very quickly.
I will be writing some longer pieces about public diplomacy in the next few months, trying to answer some of these questions…
Public Law 111-84, also known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), includes the VOICE Act which authorized $55 million for four efforts to “strengthen the ability of the Iranian people get access to news and information and overcome the electronic censorship and monitoring efforts of the Iranian regime.” Passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, these efforts remained authorized but not funded.
Section 1264 of the NDAA required a report by the Administration to provide a detailed description of informational activities related to Iran. That report was released recently without fanfare. It is available here, posted on Google Docs as a 470kb PDF (reduced from the 3mb original document and made searchable).
The report details the information efforts of the US Government toward Iran, including multiple social media platforms, and Iranian attempts to jam transmission and reception.
In a April 13, 2010, NPR story about an unauthorized biography of Oprah Winfrey, NPR’s Karen Grigsby Bates reported at least one news outlet declined to interview (and thus implicitly promote) the book’s well-known and well-read author, Kitty Kelly, suggesting motives other than quality of the product:
Kelley did do a two-part interview with Matt Lauer on Monday and this morning on the "Today Show." But David Drake, spokesman for her publisher, Crown Books, a division of Random House, says rumors that other media outlets have declined interviews are true. Drake won’t name names but reportedly, ABC is one of them. ABC’s parent company, Disney, is partnering with Winfrey in several of the new shows she’ll present on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
NPR’s media correspondent David Folkenflik followed this with a quotable statement on the interconnectedness and potential lack of autonomy of media:
If they’re deciding the merits of a book’s newsworthiness on the basis of whether or not it might offend one of their corporate partners, it’s an abdication of the primacy of letting the news value dictate the news.
Minutes for the March 2010 meeting of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy are now available. At the meeting were Commissioners Bill Hybl (Chairman), Lyndon Olson (Vice Chairman), John Osborn, Penne Korth Peacock, Jay Snyder, and Lezlee Westine. In reverse order of appearance, presenting were Walter Douglas representing the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Rosa Brooks representing the Defense Department, and myself representing, well, another perspective.
The meeting was well attended, perhaps one of the best attended events in recent memory. If you weren’t there, then I suggest you at least skim the transcript with particular attention to Rosa’s remarks and the question & answer period after the presentations.
If you’ll be in DC May 12-14, consider attending InfoWarCon, the “edgy, provocative, and evocative” conference on strategic communication and public diplomacy (even though State will be minimally represented… last year there were objections from the Truman building that “war” was in the event’s title) and cybersecurity / cyberwarfare. Checkout the agenda.
Unfortunately, due to a schedule conflict on my side, I am no longer chairing the initial plenary discussion on cyber and social media as I noted earlier. I’ll still be in DC that week, but I won’t be at InfoWarCon until the last day.
After years of neglect, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an essential cog in the wheel of public diplomacy as the body overseeing non-military international broadcasting, is one step closer to getting a fresh board. According to Al Kamen:
…the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday approved three Democrats and three Republicans to run U.S. overseas broadcasting units such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.
By unanimous voice vote, the committee sent the nominations of Walter Isaacson as chairman, and Dennis Mulhaupt, Victor H. Ashe, Michael Lynton, S. Enders Wimbushand Susan McCue as members, to the Senate floor.
But it held on to two of the eight hostages nominated five months ago. Democrat Michael Meehan and Republican Dana Perino still await committee action.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee attempted last month to approve the nominees, but events of the day prevented the meeting. As with this week, Dana Perino and Michael Meehan were to be held up for additional inquiry.
You are probably already familiar with the Wikileaks-edited video released April 5 of the 2007 airstrike in which a number of people were killed, including armed and unarmed men as well as two employees of the news agency Reuters. As of this writing, the initial instance of the edited version of the video titled "Collateral Murder" on YouTube is over 5 million views, not including reposts of the video by others using different YouTube accounts, and, according to The New York Times, "hundreds of times in television news reports." An unedited and not subtitled version upload by Wikileaks to YouTube, in contrast, has less 630,000, reflecting the lack of promotion of this version.
This video represents the advantages and disadvantages of social media in that highly influential content is easily propagated for global consumption. The persistency provided by the Internet means it will always be available and easily repurposed. Further, this situation highlights the ability to suppress unwanted information, both by the propagandist (omission of information) and by the supporter (removing an adversarial perspective). Lastly, the official response to this video shows the Defense Department still has a long way to go in understanding and operating in this new global information environment.
This video is, on its face and in depth, inflammatory and goes well beyond investigative journalism and creating transparency. It has launched debates about the legality of the attacks and questions of whether war crimes were committed. The video, as edited, titled, and subtitled is disturbing. It will continue to get substantial use in debates over Iraq, the US military, and US foreign policy in general.
Russia Today, the English language Russian government news agency, interviewed Julian Assange, Wikileaks editor and co-founder, on April 6, the day after the release. In a segment titled "Caught on Tape", the interviewer starts by describing the video as "gruesome, to say the least." Assange portrays Wikileaks as a Fourth Estate and says the military was "scared of the information coming out," which Reuters had been requesting through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for over two years, "for fear of the reform effect." Originally broadcast, the RT interview is also on YouTube has, as of this writing, with nearly 40,000 views. In the first day of release it had over 10k views and was on YouTube’s front page.
One of the few, if perhaps the only, serious attempt to respond to "Collateral Murder" is another YouTube video titled "Wiki Deception: Iraq ‘Collateral Murder’ Rebuttal":
This video, shown above, adds scenes left out of Collateral Murder but in the longer, and less promoted and thus less viewed, complete video. This "rebuttal" annotates and highlights pertinent details left out of or ignored in Collateral Murder that could have been done April 5 (or even before).
UPDATE: The "rebuttal" video was removed from YouTube for "violation of the YouTube Community Guidelines." The cause of action: "graphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed in YouTube videos." The "rejection notice" at right was sent by someone close to the "rebuttal". Neither Collateral Murder nor the unedited video have been removed from YouTube. It appears the "rebuttal" video is a clear victim of manipulation by supporters of Collateral Murder or its cause. The method was social media’s "democratic" ability to suppress or silence opposing viewpoints by flagging content as inappropriate, a feature in YouTube that is often used by insurgent and terrorist propagandists. Conversely, content can be promoted and rise to the top of search results with a "thumbs up." Jillian York has documented the same silencing technique on Facebook.
If we ascribe to the United States Army War College interpretation of U.S. national interests, we accept, 1) Defense of the Homeland, 2) Economic Prosperity, 3) Promotion of Values, and 4) Favorable World Order, as the categories that represent those national interests. The United States Government generally accepts responsibility for developing and refining these national interests and as such should initially take responsibility for developing a road map consisting of actions and communication that would foster movement toward their attainment. This is commendable – it is clearly responsible action by the developer of the goals and objectives supporting our interests, but must the government remain the lead executor in any specific category? Could it be possible that other organizations or entities might better support the achievement of national interests in certain areas for example, Economic Prosperity or Favorable World Order?
Nicholas Kralev reports at The Washington Times that Congress is expressing its concern at the disparity between the number of cultural centers China and the US have permitted in each others countries. While China has setup 60 in the US, it is currently permitting only four to be built. At present, there are no such US centers in China.
Earlier this week, the Defense Department’s Blogger Roundtable with Dr. Bradley R. Roberts, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense, and Admiral John Roberti, Deputy Director for Strategy and Policy, J-5, The Joint Staff, about the Nuclear Posture Review. The transcript here (PDF 106kb) as the podcast is here.
My question was aimed at the public diplomacy opportunities of the nuclear weapons talks & events, which range from the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to the Nuclear Summit next week to the START replacement negotiations, to the May non-proliferation conference at the United Nations. My question below is followed by the responses of Dr. Roberts.
Inside The Pentagon reported on the White House’s Section 1055 report intended to be a “comprehensive interagency strategy for public diplomacy and strategic communication of the Federal Government.” In “White House Mulls Military, Civilian Strategic Communication Initiatives” dated 25 March 2010, reporter Fawzia Sheikh wrote:
The below bibliography is of the works of Hans “Tom” Tuch. Tom is a retired Career Minister in the U.S. Foreign Service, served in public diplomacy positions in Germany, the Soviet Union, and Brazil. He was Deputy Chief of Mission and charge in Bulgaria and Brazil. In Washington, he served as Deputy and Area Director for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in USIA, and as Deputy and Acting Director of the Voice of America. Published here with permission.
The 2010 installment of InfoWarCon will be May 12-14 in Washington, D.C., at the Washington Convention Center. According to the organizers,
This is not your typical conference. This is edgy, provocative and evocative.
The agenda is here. Noteworthy is that Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale is expected to speak on day 2, May 13, at 8:00a-8:30a. Her predecessor, Jim Glassman, spoke at the 2009 event.
Also listed on the current agenda are Price Floyd, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, and Dana Priest, The Washington Post.
I am moderating the panel “The Power of Cyber and Social Networking” and, rumor has it, appearing on another panel at InfoWarCon. See you there.